Penley, J.K. Penley, Wahnita

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Penley, J.K. Penley, Wahnita

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John (Jack) Kenneth Penley was born January 8, 1888 in Orillia, Ontario, the son of William Dingley and Isabelle (McRae) Penley. Jack worked for a time in Ontario at lumber camps along the McKeller River. In 1907, the Penley family moved to Kelfield, Saskatchewan; homesteads were filed for the father and older sons, including Jack. Jack proved his land, and in the off-season, worked in logging camps in northern Saskatchewan. In 1912 he traveled to Calgary, Alberta and found work in the clothing business. Soon, he began work as a dance instructor and exhibition dancer; he purchased this studio and continued to teach dance as well as beginning to hold public dances. His business, known as Penley's Dancing Academy, was first located at Unity Hall, and in 1914 moved to Hickman Hall. At a dance summer school in New York, he met a girl by the name of Wahnita Elizabeth Barker. She was the daughter of Mimie and Walter Barker and was born December 20, 1900 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She learned to dance as a child, and soon became a dance teacher's assistant. She was only sixteen or seventeen when she met Jack Penley. He invited her to Calgary, but as she was so young, they just corresponded. Jack joined the Royal Flying Corps, and in 1918 asked Wahnita to take over his dance studio in Calgary. They were married March 26, 1918 before he went east where he trained in Ontario at Camp Borden and Desaronto; he eventually became a flying instructor. After the war, Jack and Wahnita taught at the Academy. Their son John Kenneth (Ken) Junior was born January 7, 1921 and daughter Wahnita (Nita) Louise was born May 23, 1922; Nita later married Allan Bertram. In 1929, the Academy moved from Hickman Hall to a new building, which was then sold in 1948. A new building was built, and again sold; afterwards they rented space for the studio. As well as offering dance instruction and public dances in Calgary, in the summer months Jack ran dances at Chestermere Lake from 1928 until 1934 and at Sylvan Lake from 1933 until 1944. In 1936, Jack began a swing club, which became known as Penley's Swing Club; the Club had a branch in London, England during the war. Jack died in June 1956. After Jack's death, Wahanita continued to teach dance out of her home, and taught for 50 years before retiring. She died February 29, 1988.


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